Bears

Flowers still adjusting to backup role

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Flowers still adjusting to backup role

Tyler Flowers has gone a full week or more without seeing any game action plenty of times this season. For someone who has played in over 100 games every year since 2007, it hasn't been an easy transition. But that's the life of a backup catcher, especially one playing behind one of baseball's most durable backstops in A.J. Pierzynski.

"I take early batting practice every chance I can," Flowers explained after doing just that prior to Tuesday's game. "Whenever I can get a chance to swing, I need to do it since I'm not usually in the games too often. I have to take every chance for people to see me, see what I'm doing and see anything glaring that's going to make it more challenging for me to have success."

Flowers owns a .255 on-base percentage in 51 plate appearances this season, hitting a pair of solo home runs to account for his only RBIs. He has big power, which is frequently on display during batting practice as he peppers the empty left-field stands.

But batting practice isn't enough. Tuesday marks the 19th time Flowers has appeared in a game this season, and that lack of action has led Flowers to try plenty of different routes to working on his approach.

"It's a challenge not seeing live pitching more than once or twice a week," Flowers said. "I gotta find a way to duplicate it as close as I can to keep everything sharp."

That's led to plenty of early batting practice sessions, along with live batting practice with breaking balls and changeups. Lately, Flowers says he's been hitting off a pitching machine to simulate game-speed fastballs.

Going the pitching machine route is something Flowers picked up from Ramon Castro, who backed up A.J. Pierzynski from 2009 through 2011. During Pierzynski's tenure, Castro was statistically the best backup catcher the Sox had, hitting 16 home runs with a .758 OPS in 91 games.

"He really look time last year to show me what he does," Flowers said of Castro. "He was a pretty successful backup for a number of years. Being an older guy, me being a younger guy, it's not going to hurt me to listen to him and take in whatever he has to say."

Castro played parts of 13 seasons in the majors and only appeared in more than 60 games once. Flowers has previously said he doesn't envision himself as a career backup. But, for now, he's trying to do the best in the role he has and isn't thinking about Pierzynski's contract being up at the end of this season, potentially creating an opening behind the plate.

"Just taking the job I have right now and try to make the most of it," Flowers responded when asked about 2013. "Every time I get out there, do the best I can and something will open up at some point."

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

If the Chicago Bears want to make a real run at the playoffs in 2018, the offensive line will have to do its part by keeping QB Mitch Trubisky upright. The offense is expected to be more pass-heavy under coach Matt Nagy and will depend on Trubisky having time in the pocket to go through his progressions and find the open target.

New offensive line coach Harry Hiestand should help that cause. He's universally praised as one of the best offensive line coaches in the sport and will be charged with getting a better effort from a unit that ranked near the bottom-third in pass protection last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

19. CHICAGO BEARS

2017 pass-blocking efficiency: 77.9

Best individual PBE: Josh Sitton, 97.4

Because of several crippling injuries, nine different players saw at least 100 pass-block snaps for the Bears in 2017. They gave up 152 pressures on 536 passing plays. The top performance came from left tackle Charles Leno Jr., who enjoyed the best season of his career and allowed just 24 pressures all season. Heading into the 2018 campaign, rookie guard James Daniels is penciled in to fill the shoes of the recently departed pass-blocking star Josh Sitton. Daniels performed well in pass protection during his final college season, allowing just 10 pressures on 371 pass-blocking snaps at Iowa.

The Bears will be without last season's top pass-protector, Josh Sitton, who was let go by GM Ryan Pace this offseason and signed with the Dolphins. 

Pass protection was once all about the play of the offensive tackles, but with the NFL's interior defensive linemen evolving into disruptive forces up the middle, guard play will be nearly as important. A healthy Kyle Long is critical. Chicago can't afford growing pains from James Daniels, either. Cody Whitehair returns to full-time center duties, a role he excelled at during his rookie season. 

Charles Leno should provide reliable play at left tackle. Bobby Massie remains a wildcard, but with little depth behind him, the Bears can do nothing more than hope his bad reps are limited in 2018.

With Hiestand in the fold and a healthy Long ready to compete at a high level again, the Bears' offensive line should be much improved this season.

NHL Draft Profile: D Evan Bouchard

NHL Draft Profile: D Evan Bouchard

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Evan Bouchard

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 193 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"A highly intelligent defenseman with exceptional vision and offensive instincts. He reads the play very well and his passing ability allows him to be a constant threat in his team's transition game. He's one of the top offensive-defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League and magician-like when quarterbacking the power play."

NHL player comparable: John Carlson/Alex Pietrangelo

Fit for Blackhawks:

At 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, Bouchard is one of the most NHL-ready defensemen in this year's draft and that could be appetizing for a team like the Blackhawks, who are looking for immediate help on the blue line. But Bouchard is a right-handed shot, and drafting him would add a third high-end right-handed shot defenseman to the organization, along with prospects Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell.

You can never have enough of them, but there's only room for three before somebody would have to play on their off hand and that would mean the third would be playing on the bottom pairing. All three of these players have Top 4 potential.

Still, that may not even come into play here. The Blackhawks will seek to take the best available player, like they always have. And if they feel it's Bouchard, they'll do it.